Here goes nothing…

So I did in fact, literally just spend 90 minutes writing a post that got deleted.  I’ll try my best to recreate it.  If Steinbeck did it with Of Mice and Men, I suppose a little blog is possible. By the way, when WordPress says a “draft was saved”, it’s a dirty, stinkin’ lie.

Since I also am having no success with my camera, I’m not able to upload any of the amazing things I’ve seen.  So be it.  For now.  In addition, I’m required to say that the views of this blog are entirely mine and in no way represent the views of IREX and/or the State Department.  Side effects may include mild nausea and vertigo.

Rather than tell you about all the things I’ve done, I want to write about the three events that have made the largest impact on me thus far.  I could tell you about the fantastic meals, views, etc. But honestly, that’s not what occupies my thoughts or keeps me up at night.  But the following three events do:

The first was a visit my cohort made to the public high school, Elefante Brano, in Brasillia.  This is a school of very humble means where many of the students come from outside neighborhoods.  Many of their parents make sacrifices to see that they get transportation to this school.  I was reminded immediately of the similarities between this school and mine, GRCHS.  It didn’t take long before I could identify the “tough kids” congregating together, the “loner kid wearing a heavy metal shirt” sitting in the back corner of class, the “in love” students stealing a kiss (or… ahem…more) in the hallway shadows, the eager students flooding me with questions, etc.  But one stark difference I noticed between this school’s students and teachers is that they take NOTHING for granted.  When co-teaching an English class with a colleague, after seeing the images from our schools, one student remarked, “It’s so beautiful.”  Another, “You have so much. We are the exception here to have one computer in a class.”  Never again will I look at all of our students’ one-to-one netbooks the same.  How many times have I complained about the problems of technology.  That the Internet didn’t work.  That the computers take too long to turn on, etc.  I am so blessed to have these technological difficulties.

The day after we visited Elefante Branco, we visited the private, Catholic high school, Marista.  The differences were nothing short of astronomical.  I felt immediately “at home”.  The resources and students at this school reminded me so much of those I have at GRCHS.  In some cases, this school was ahead of us, utilizing common work spaces and technology in project-based, global learning.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed with this gorgeous school and write the kids off as over-privileged and elitist, but I’ll never forget a comment from a 16-year-old female student: “In most [private] schools, they only care about the test, the test, the test [for university acceptance]. Here, they care about ME.”  What a good reminder for me to receive.  As a teacher in a school with overwhelming resources, it is humbling to hear that in the midst of all this wealth and push toward the latest educational trend, it’s a school’s core philosophy that will truly impact students the most.

I am currently in the small city of Ibitinga, Sao Paulo.  My IREX co-teacher, Troy, and I had the honor of visiting two schools today.  Our gracious host, Maura, took us to see her public high school and then a public elementary school for poor/orphaned/disadvantaged kids.  In both cases, I was so struck by the level of sincerity and professionalism of the teachers. The passion for their work and their students was exceptional.  One moment that I’ll never forget was at the elementary school when a probably 7-year-old little girl took the microphone, pushed up her glasses, and delicately asked us in Portugese, “Do American parents spend much time with their kids?”  It took my and Troy’s breath away, and we stood momentarily dumb.  It wasn’t until later that I learned this little girl’s parents were both in jail.  After a good hotel-room-cry, I “squeezed” my boys as tightly as I could across the ocean.

So I guess the underlying theme of my trip so far is the power of genuine, empathetic connections.  I could have said that before I left, and yes, it would probably sound as cliche as it does now, but whatever.  The students and teachers of Brazil are re-teaching me this every day, and for this I’m humbled and thankful.


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